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Sabarmati: Creating a New Divide?

As the Sabarmati river divides the city of Ahmedabad into East and West, a new wall divides this once cosmopolitan city into the "new city" and the "old city". While Ahmedabad has had a long communal history, the violence of 2002 broke the backbone of the Muslim community, resulting in their ghettoisation and polarising the city's areas along a communal divide that seems almost impossible to bridge.


Sabarmati: Creating a New Divide?


Economic and Political WeeklyFebruary 24, 2007699instances, both communities lived side by side, has now becomeincreasingly divided into the “majority” and “minority” areas.It may be recalled that the eastern part of Ahmedabad wasseverely affected by the violence of 2002, and different inves-tigative reports have identified three major regions: Juhapura,Vatwa, Odhav, Naroda Patiya, Chamanpura and Vejalpurlocatedin the periphery of the city; Bapunagar, Saraspur, Gomtipur andRakhiyal situated on the western side of the railway track ineastern Ahmedabad; and Behrampura, Dani-Limda, Jamalpurand Khanpur lying between the eastern side of the river and therailway track (see the Map). Interestingly enough, these regionswere inhabited by both Hindu and Muslim communities, but nowafter being uprooted from their original homes, the Muslims fromthis region have preferred to move into the ghettos in other partsof the city out of a sense of insecurity. As a consequence, differentparts of the city, even erstwhile mixed population areas are fastbecoming single community areas.Estranged NeighboursEven in early 2005, three years after that deadly pogrom, theinhabitants of Faizal Park (a Muslim ghetto in Vatwa) have notbeen able to come to terms with the loss of their homes andbelongings. It is impossible for them to accept the loss of theirfamily members and near and dear ones. Faizal Park is a placewhere a large number of displaced Muslims have arrived fromNaroda Patiya to resettle themselves. Naroda Patiya was one ofthe most intensely affected areas where the perpetrators looted,ransacked and destroyed lives and properties of the minoritycommunity. Before the violence, the total population of NarodaPatiya was about 12,000 -15,000 of which the Muslims were onlyabout 1,000 in number. These Muslims were mostly poor, dailywage earners, and largely migrants from Karnataka andMaharashtra [Varadarajan 2002:136]. This area witnessed theworst forms of sexual violence against women and young girlswith helpless people burnt alive. After their initial displacementfrom their original homes, these hapless people took shelter inthe makeshift camps in Vatwa set up by community organisationsand NGOs. The government of Gujarat did not set up a singlerelief camp and took no concrete step to rehabilitate them.According to Ayesha Bibi (32) (name changed; interviewedSeptember 18, 2005), a resident of Kharkhar in Faizal Park, whenthe government ordered the closure of the camps, they weresimply terrified to return to their homes. She said:When we went back home after a couple of days, there was nothing,it was flat like a field. Furthermore, these people threatened us notto return again. If we return, we shall face even worse consequences.Although the quarters of the State Reserve Police (SRP) werejust across the road, Naroda Patiya faced the worst, unspeakablebrutality and destruction. She said:… they killed my husband. He was a rickshaw puller. My brotherwas shot in his leg. They put tear-gas on us and by totally destroyingour homes they forced us to leave our place.Losing her husband at the time of the dhamal, Ayesha Bibi withhertwo sons, Rafiq and Asfaq, and two daughters, Tahera and Hena,decided to resettle their lives in Faizal Park with the help of anNGO.Mumtaz (28) (name changed; interviewed September 20, 2005),another respondent and also a resident of Kharkar in Faizal Park,was listening to Ayesha Bibi and repeatedly nodded as if to certifyher version. As soon as Ayesha Bibi paused, she started to narrateher own experience at a higher decibel. She recounted the eventsof the afternoon of March 1, 2002:The ‘tola’ (crowd) arrived, armed with ‘trishuls’ (tridents) andswords wearing khaki pants, white shirts and saffron ‘fettis’(headscarves) shouting – ‘Miya ne maro, Miya neo kato!’ (Beatthe Muslims, kill the Muslims!). Some of them started peltingstones. We were about 50 helpless people and they were a fewthousands. As we ran for our lives, the police blocked our escape,chasing us in the direction of the mob – ‘Chalo maar do saaloko’ – (kill the bastards), they shouted. For the first time we facedthis kind of incident in our locality. We used to stay at ChetanDas’ Chawl,where the Muslims and Hindus used to stay side byside. Our Hindu neighbours never created any problem so far, butwhen the Bajrang Dal started organising training camps in thetemple of the locality, these Hindus started participating in thosecamps. Like my husband, other male members of our neighbourhoodgot frightened and started saying that these camps were to generateintense hatred against us as we were being projected in the trainingcamps as their enemies.Mumtaz claimed that the Hindu residents of Gangotri and GopinathSociety were fully aware well in advance that the dhamal wouldtake place on March 1, and so they locked their houses and left.Like Ayesha’s family, Mumtaz with her husband, who was arickshaw puller, and her six-year old son, Yakub, took thedecision to go to Faizal Park while leaving the Qutb-e-AlamDargah Relief Camp.The narratives of the displaced persons now living aroundFaizal Park or Bombay Hotel make it clear that an overarchingsense of insecurity has become part and parcel of the lives forthese uprooted people in general and of the women in particular.Any displaced woman now faces a sense of insecurity – forherself, for her family members and for her community. Further-more, they are worried about the effects of the uncertainty anddislocation on their children, about the psychological trauma thatmany of these children are suffering from. After all, many ofthese little ones witnessed the worst kind of violence. As a result,a large number of these displaced persons of this city now preferto live in ghettoised clusters, mainly due to their perception thatthe threat to their life and property is greater when they arephysically isolated from their community. As many law-keepershad turned into law-breakers, they feel more vulnerable livingwith “enemies”.Mumtaz or Ayesha Bibi’s families may have shifted to the areasmainly inhabited by their communities, they may now feel lessscared for their physical security, but has their ghettoisationcontributed to their economic security also? As most of thesepeople were ‘chuttak mazdoor’ (daily labour) and belonged tothe poorest sections of society, after moving to these ghettos,they have started facing economic hardship. It is very difficultto earn daily wage in an alien area.Even when a few Muslim families tried to return to theirtraditional localities after their relief camps were closed, theythought that they would be able to gradually set up their age-old petty trade of tailoring or grocery. However, soon theyrealised that they might not be allowed to do so by their neighboursbelonging to the majority community.Pushed to GhettosThe areas most badly affected in 2002 are located on bothsides ofthe railway tracks in the eastern Ahmedabad. HereBapunagar, Saraspur, Gomtipur and Rakhiyal had many large
Economic and Political WeeklyFebruary 24, 2007700textile mills. Out of about 100 textile mills in Gujarat, 68mills [Ananda Bazar Patrika 2005] were located in Ahmedabadand most of them were situated around the above-mentionedareas, contributing tremendously to make Ahmedabad the“Manchester of India”. However, the last two decades havewitnessed the closure of more than 50 textile mills in Ahmedabadincluding all the major mills situated in these areas and this hasdefinitely caused severe unemployment in the city.When I entered Suleman Roja’s Chawl near Chartoda Kabarsthanin Gomtipur, I discovered that two big ash-coloured iron gateshave separated the chawl from the rest of the world. The bulletmarks on top of one gate were still visible after more than threeyears of the violence. Jamshed Khan (42) (name changed;interviewed September 22, 2004), a resident of the chawl toldme that there was police firing during the dhamal. Accordingto Jamshed:They arrived in two vehicles the day after the violence had eruptedin our area and fired on people who had gathered on the roofsof their one-storey houses.Their chawl was divided into two sectors by a long fence,which they used to call the “border” – one part of the chawlwas for the Muslim inhabitants and the other for the dalits.At the time of the dhamal, their houses were looted, destroyedand burnt. Interestingly, their dalit neighbours, who weresupporters of the Bajrang Dal and Rashtriya SwayamsevakSangh (RSS) looted their household goods, but did not burntheir houses.2 Jamshed recalls that they had had quite cordialrelations with their Hindu neighbours, celebrating different fes-tivals and weddings together. In recent years, however, theRSS people from outside had started creating trouble. So, oflate, during any festival, people on both sides feared that ariot could break out any moment. The border was alreadythere – a road separated the Hindu area from the Muslimone.Besides that road, fear used to keep them apart in recenttimes.Against this backdrop, the violence of 2002 polarised themeven further, pushing more people into the ghettos. It cannotbe denied that the Muslim commercial and residential establish-ments and individual houses were exclusively selected at thetime of violence in parts of the city that were more cosmo-politanin character. In most places, especially in the chawls,the Hindu houses were marked by saffron flags, or by thepictures of Ram or Hanuman in order to distinguish themfromthe Muslim ones. Just before the violence in 2002,government representatives had interviewed the members ofMuslim households for a below poverty line (BPL) survey. Itis believed by many affected families that in the name of theBPL survey those representatives gathered information on thesocio-economic conditions of the Muslim population beforetargeting them.Hence, even after the camps were closed (in Ahmedabad therewere 45 relief camps as on March 16, 2000) [CORD 2000:1]many of the inmates chose to stay in the same locality as thecamps, instead of going back to their houses in the mixed populatedareas again. On the other hand, some residents of Suleman Roja’schawl, Dosu Miyan’s chawl or Marium Bibi’s chawl in Gomtipurhad no other option. They have returned to their original placeand since then have tried to resettle themselves in their destroyedhomes. However, after their return, they have almost created aborder of a huge brick wall to separate their chawls from theHindu ‘mohollas’. Being ghettoised appears to be a safer optionfor them in view of 2002.Not All Quiet on the Western FrontSo far we have been looking at the eastern side of Sabarmati.Let us now turn to the post-violence situation on the westernbank, where there are posh new areas of mixed population. Thewestern side of the river, as indicated earlier, has always beenportrayed as a safe and secure area due to very little violence.As a result, the very safety of the new city attracted some affluentMuslims to purchase residential and commercial properties onthe western bank. However, soon it was proven that the new cityis not so safe for the Muslims. Even their affluence could notensure their safety and security on the other side of the river.It is interesting to note that in 2002 many people even used theircars to loot the Muslim-owned shops. Communal hatred easilycut across class lines.After all, among the Gujarati Muslims the Bohra, Aga Khaniand Khoja communities are primarily traders. These communitiesdominate many Gujarati markets and business centres inAhmedabad. They easily became targets of systematic lootingand burning. The destruction of the Muslim-owned shops, hotelsand restaurants in the posh localities of the new city were notonly to break the economic backbone of the Muslim communitybut also to ensure that even if a Muslim businessman had themoney, he would think twice to restart his business in a predomi-nantly non-Muslim area [Momin 2003:114-17].As a result, many Muslims who had moved out of the old cityto settle in the posh areas of the new city to enjoy a better standardof living were forced to move back into the Muslim ghettos onceagain. It may be recalled that in 2002 even many posh apartmentsand housing colonies inhabited by Muslim families on the westernside of Sabarmati were not spared. The upper class Muslim housesin the posh localities of Paldi in general and Delite and TaranaApartments in particular were completely gutted and looted by therioting mob” (Achyut Yagnik; interviewed November 29, 2004).It is not surprising that the real estate developers now preferto plan blocks of apartments either only for Hindus or only forMuslims. In fact the report of a survey conducted by India Today,Aaj Tak and ORG-MARG between November 6 and 10, 2002,just before the state elections were held in Gujarat revealed that58 per cent of the total Gujarati electorate was unwilling to havea member of another community as a neighbour [Dasgupta2002:41]. The “societies” with a mixed population are very rarein the city nowadays. The Gulmarg Society in the Chamanpura-Asarwa area is an exception, but it had to pay its price for beingexceptional – Ehsan Jafri, a former MP of Gujarat, along withhis family members were brutally killed here [Varadarajan 2002:140-44; Times of India 2002].Walled CityWhen I approached the river Sabarmati from the eastern partof Ahmedabad, I came across a huge orange signboard withwritings in Gujarati. As I cannot read Gujarati, on my query,my auto-rickshaw driver translated for me: “This is a Hindukingdom”. He also asked me in the same breath, “Are you aHindu?”. As I said yes, he seemed to relax and assured me that“even if you are alone in this city, you need not be worried atall. It’s perfectly safe for you, ben!”. As our conversation went
Economic and Political WeeklyFebruary 24, 2007701on, I felt curious abput his reaction to the violence of 2002.Expressing his displeasure about the incident, he did not forgetto mention that:Like other Gujarati Hindus living in the city I also believe that‘they’ deserved it, ben. They crossed their limits. Look what theydid to the World Trade Centre. Are they going to overrun us?You know ben, we always face problems while we are in theJamalpur area. We have to drive very carefully. They are readyto create trouble at the drop of a hat.Not only this, the divide between the two communities hasbecome so sharp now that even for commuting from one partof the city to another, you may have to follow two different routes– one shorter and the other longer – depending upon the religiousidentity of your autorickshaw driver. I used to take an autorickshawfrom Lal Darwaja to reach Vatwa. On the first day myautorickshawdriver chose a way that took me to my destinationvery soon, but on the second day, we were taking a differentand longer route. When I asked the driver, he instantly repliedwith a smiling face:We have two routes, ben, to reach the Vatwa ‘darga’. Like manyHindu drivers, I have taken a route through the Gujarat IndustrialDevelopment Corporation area. This one bypasses the main citybut is a longer and safer route. The Muslim drivers use a straighterroad through the city crisscrossing the grimy, congested andteeming localities mainly inhabited by the Muslims.The violence of 2002 has polarised the already communallydivided city of Ahmedabad to such an extent that there is nowvery limited scope for both the communities to interact with eachother, polarising this once cosmopolitan city into several singlecommunity zones. Moreover, the violence of 2002 has increasedthe level of informalisation of the economy of this city, pushingmore and more people to casual employment. In fact the seg-regation of the two main religious communities is so deep-rootedthat it is reflected in the day-to-day lives of the city-dwellers.This deep-rooted segregation has not, of course, been possibleovernight. It is an upshot of profound cultural change whichGujarat, as a whole, and Ahmedabad city or “Karnavati city ofthe Hindu Rashtra”3 in particular has been experiencing for along period of time [Parekh 2003: 169-80].Changing Political Sociology of GujaratHistory shows that Ahmedabad was regarded as a great centreof trade and commerce prior to 1947. The economy of the citywas mainly under the control of a “small” but well-integratedtrading community of the banias and jains (also called jainbanias). There were ‘mahajans’ (guild-like organisation of thetraders and financiers) and ‘panchas’ (guild-like organisation ofcraftsmen). The trade groups and caste groups, however, weremostly coterminous. The traditional culture of the city was largelyshaped and dominated by the upper caste brahmins, banias andto a lesser extent by the patidars since decolonisation. To some,the traditional culture of the city seemed to be “apolitical”,“hierarchical”, “casteist”, “moralistic”, “devotional” and “mod-erately religious” (ibid: 174).The establishment of a large number of textile mills prior todecolonisation attracted migrants not only from different partsof Gujarat but also from outside the state. Most of the migrantsabsorbed into the textile mills as workers started living in thechawls built in the vicinity of the mills. In these chawls, theHindus and Muslims used to stay side by side. Like the millowners’ associations or mahajans, the textile workers also formedtheir trade unions called ‘mazdoor mahajan’ and followed asimilar path with the spirit of harmony and cooperation as themahajans did. Gandhiji’s philosophy also contributed a strongsense of “social consciousness” and the “spirit of equality” intothe Gujarati society.After the decolonisation of the country, the Gandhian spiritof tolerance and cooperation continued in Ahmedabad for onlya few years. Since the 1960s the “Mahajani-Gandhian” culturestarted losing its relevance. Due to the erosion of the Mahajani-Gandhian culture, which previously “did not allow for suchpolitical practices that threaten social harmony, promote com-munal polarisation or allow for violence” [Sheth 2002:16], tra-ditional moral and spiritual values started weakening. Moreover,the closure of the textile mills one by one had a major impacton the socio-economic conditions of certain localities inAhmedabad. It caused severe unemployment in the city. Thestruggle of the unemployed workers for their survival made themdependent on casual jobs. The changing political culture of thecity, facilitated by the closure of the textile mills, affected thecommon Muslims more than Hindus [Nandy 2002:16-17]. Beingeconomically, socially and educationally backward, a large sectionof unemployed Muslims were the victims of this process. Withno regular source of income and without any regular jobs, a largesection of jobless workers took to crime – smuggling, drugpeddling and so on, enabling the radical Hindu organisations likeBajrang Dal to easily identify criminals as Muslims.The political dominance of the upper caste in Ahmedabad citystarted eroding as a result of the challenges from the numericallylarge section of the lower castes comprising the patidars andkshatriyas, especially after Gujarat became a separate state in1960. Due to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, the cityhad witnessed a fast growth of an educated middle class of mainlybrahmin, bania, and patidar castes. The search for a new identityby the so-called lower castes in Gujarat brought an end to thetraditional upper caste dominance. Moreover, the winningKHAM (an alliance between kshatriya, harijan, adivasi andmuslim communities) strategy of the ruling Congress Party ledby Madhav Singh Solanki altered the caste equations in Gujarat.The KHAM strategy gave rise to many intermediate castes andmade them influential in politics. According to Achyut Yagnikand Suchitra Sheth: “… for the first time the upper castes sensedan economic and political threat to their domination. The tem-porary success of KHAM created the image of a massive transferof power from the ‘ujaliat’ or upper castes to the ‘pachhat’ orlower castes”. As a consequence, the political elite comprisingthe lower castes started dominating the economic elite [Yagnikand Sheth 2002:1010; Riaz Ahmad 2002: 1870-73]. This per-ceived threat pushed many members of the so-called upper castesto the other extreme and made them more receptive to theradicalisation of religion [Balagopal 2002; Yagnik and Sheth2005; Kannupillai 2006].During Congress rule in Gujarat, there was a growing resent-ment among a section of the dominant Hindus that the governmentwas pampering the religious minorities in the state throughinstitutionalised favours at the expense of the Hindus. Mean-while, through the anti-reservation riots of 1981 and againin 1985, the ‘savarna’ unity of the brahmin-bania-patidarbecame stronger. In those riots, the targets were obviously thedalits.Later, these riots took a religious turn. It is also interesting
Economic and Political WeeklyFebruary 24, 2007702to note that the local Muslims did not take part in the reservationdispute at the initial stage but the attempts of uniting theHindus across caste lines soon made the Muslims the main targetsof violence.Indeed, the riots of 1985 marked the triumph of Hindu nation-alism in Gujarat. The consolidation of “Hindu votes” soonovertook the attempts of polarising the Hindus across castelines inthe polling season. It became quite clear that, the for-mation of Hindu identity among the dalits was not only anoutcome of the riots, it was also a part of the ongoing processthat took concrete shape during the anti-reservation riots[Shani 2005: 861-96]. In fact, by and large, the dalits were notattacked by the upper caste Hindus during the later incidents ofviolence except in some industrial areas in the eastern part ofAhmedabad city. In this manner, the constituents of the Sanghparivar garnered a lot of support among the dalits as they suppliedrelief materials to such victims especially in Hindu-Muslimmixed localities.This confluence of the Gujarati savarnas was also, in a way,a reaction to the ever-growing migration from rural areas andother neighbouring states to the expanding urban areas ofAhmedabad. However, since the mid-1980s, the Vishwa HinduParishad (VHP) clubbed the concept of savarna together withthe principles of Hindutva. Therefore, the dalits were replacedby the Muslims as the new target of the politics of hate. Thevendors of the politics of Hindutva could bring the so-called lowercastes to their own fold to a great extent as a section of dalitsperceived this as an improvement of their social status and anattainment of upward mobility. By integrating the lower casteswithin the socio-cultural order of Gujarat, the VHP attemptedto split the rather successful political alliance of the lower castesand Muslims (the KHAM strategy) [Nandy et al 1995]. Thisinclusion of dalits within the broad definition of savarnas markedthe beginning of a political transition from a period of Congressdomination to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in thestate politics of Gujarat. The electoral victories of BJP both inthe city civic body and the overall state assembly electionsconfirmed the growing strength of BJP. 4On their part, many Muslims were still basking in their oldglory as rulers and traders, and they were reluctant to come toterms with the growing socio-political dominance of the savarnaHindus. They were not ready to accept the concept of ‘Bhadra’Gujarat (speaking pure Gujarati, adopting the Hindu Gujaraticulture, etc) nurtured by the VHP. So the Muslims of Gujaratas a whole, and those of Ahmedabad in particular had only twooptions. They could either remain “permanent cultural outsiders”– as second-class citizens or they could culturally integratethemselves with the ‘Bhadra’ Gujaratis in order to keep their placein the society intact [Parekh 2003: 174].Meanwhile, since the early 1990s the socio-cultural profile ofAhmedabad went through a sea change. Communal segregationslowly but gradually led to residential, social and educationalisolation. As representation of Muslims in state institutions likethe legislative assembly (never more than 4 per cent), bureau-cracy, and police force were remarkably poor around this time,it was not expected that the state would show the minimum levelof “conflict sensitivity” in its day-to-day activities,5 and religionturned into an ideology in the hands of the VHP. The manifes-tation of this “religion as ideology” could be witnessed in theriots of 1990 between the dalits and Muslims in the industrialbelt of Ahmedabad after Lal Krishna Advani’s arrest during his‘rath yatra’. The ideology only reached a new stage in 2002[Nandy 1990: 70-72].Prior to February 2002, a systematic propaganda by the Sanghparivar was on, through the spread of venomous literature andhousehold surveys in Ahmedabad. Specific targeting of the propertyand commercial establishments of the minorities and the refusalof the state to provide any meaningful relief and rehabilitationimmediately increased the vulnerability of the Muslims to aconsiderable extent. One of the major intentions was not to allowthe minority community to have large-scale economic benefits.Through this kind of exclusion of the Muslims, the followersof Hindutva wished to ensure some kind of communal monopolyover local businesses.Against this backdrop, the result of the state assembly electionsheld in late-2002 further reinforced the continuing trend ofcommunal polarisation in Gujarat, particularly in Ahmedabad.The verdict of 2002 somewhat legitimised communal violenceas an election strategy of the BJP in Gujarat.6 The landslidevictory of the BJP in these elections testified the effectivemanipulation of communal violence as a political weapon topolarise the already divided society for the consolidation of Hinduvotes. The results showed that the party secured the largestnumber of seats in central Gujarat, the epicentre of the violenceof 2002. In Ahmedabad district, another violence-affected area,the party got 17 of 19 seats and overall, the BJP secured 53 outof 65 seats from those regions where the violence took a brutalshape [Yadav 2003: 10-16; Bunsha 2003: 4-8].These results indicated how the scar of communal bloodbathwas translated into a brazen show of Hindu solidarity and Gujaratia ‘ashmita’ (pride). The survey conducted by India Today, AajTak and ORG-MARG in 2002 showed that, Godhra, terrorismand Gujarati pride struck a chord in the electorate. It is not atall surprising, therefore, that 66 per cent voters endorsed that“outsiders” had defamed Gujarat, and 61 per cent believed handlingof the violence by the state government was fair and effective[Dasgupta 2002: 41].Dividing Urban SpaceEconomic exclusion of the Muslims coupled with physicalviolence against them had increased the sense of insecurity amongthem within the city in recent times. After the violence of 2002the growing social, economic and cultural divide along communallines are pushing the Muslims in the city further into the ghettos.A leading political analyst has correctly pointed out that, “com-munities live separately in several cities, towns and villages. Butthe difference here is that it is not out of choice. People in thiscity are forced to live in ghettos” (Achyut Yagnik; interviewedNovember 29, 2004).The residential areas in Ahmedabad were already divided alongcaste lines. Within the old, walled city in central Ahmedabad,different communities used to live in separate lanes called ‘pols’.The Muslims and dalits have long been denied accommodationin certain parts of this city as they take non-vegetarian (and,therefore, impure) food. As Ahmedabad expanded beyond thewalled city, the communal divide became sharper in its suburbs.The Hindus who could afford to by now moved out of the walledcity into areas like Naranpura, Satellite and Vejalpur on thewestern side of Sabarmati or Maninagar in the eastern part ofthe city. The Muslims started shifting to New Shah Alam (areassurrounding Bombay Hotel), Faizal Park and Ektanagar. The

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